Born into a peasant family in the Crimea Mariya was one of ten children. In 1925 she married a young army officer and in tribute to the October revolution she and her husband changed their surname to Oktyabrskaya. Her husband was killed in the fighting around Kiev in August 1941 but the news took one year to reach her. Her desire for revenge led her to sell all of her possessions to raise funds to purchase a tank for the red army. Mariya placed one condition on this donation; she must be allowed to drive it! Realising the publicity opportunities the high command approved her request and at the age of 38 she commenced training. In Sept 1943 she was assigned to 26ya Gvardeyskaya Tankovaya Brigada (26th Guards Tank Brigade) as a mechanic - driver. When Mariya arrived at her unit in a T34 tank emblazoned with the Turret slogan Boyevaya Poduga or Fighting Girlfriend. The Tankists viewed her with scepticism and considered the assignment a publicity stunt. In combat during October and November 1943 Mariya distinguished herself as a skilled and fearless driver, manuvering her tank like a veteran and accounting for many enemy troops and guns in close assaults during her rampage of revenge.